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During the summer of 2020, at the apex of social unrest following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, Portland, OR became the epicentre of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The barricade at the down town Apple store to protect the store from the street protests, became an enormous canvas for street artists and a gathering spot for those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. For six weeks, Byron Merritt documented the goings-on in front of this huge work of art.

LFI: What is the role of the mural for your project?
Byron Merritt: The mural was a visual call to action against racial injustice, that had reach an apex with the killing of George Floyd and others who died at the hands of police. At first, I was shooting the artwork as it evolved and grew, matching the intensity and growth of the protests for racial equality. My focus shifted to capturing the artists…and then to those simply drawn to the site in support of the movement.  

Do you think photography can help change society for the better?
Photography can help amplify things that society needs to change. It can put a spotlight on people, events and places that need to be highlighted. As has been said many times over the last year: racial injustice isn’t new or something that’s just started to happen…It’s just that now it’s getting filmed, photographed and amplified through visual platforms. Photography alone can’t necessarily change society for the better – but it can be a spark to move things in the right direction.

I assume, you met dozens of interesting people during this project…
I met tons of amazing people because of this! And I heard and remember every person’s story about why they were there and what the site meant to them. Before shooting this, I’d never really shot portraits of strangers! I was always too nervous to ask. What I learned in the process is that by simply being human and open and generous, people open up and trust you with their image. Instead of TAKING their portraits, I offered it as something I was giving them. Literally. I offered everyone I shot to contact me if they wanted a copy of the image sent to them. I even made prints for some who were especially moved by their photo.

Is there any reason why you prefer black and white photography?
Black and white photography takes me back to when I taught myself photography, many many years ago while living in Germany. I had access to a darkroom and shot tens of rolls of black and white a week, and spent all weekend in the darkroom developing and printing. There is a pureness to black and white that reduces photography to its essence of shape, tone, composition, texture, pattern and subject.  

How did you get into the world of Leica photography?
I have always had a love of not only the images produced by Leica cameras, but for the beauty of the cameras themselves. Having a design background, I’ve loved the functional beauty in the design of the products. In late 2019 I took the leap into rangefinder photography and bought my first Leica M. The Typ 246 Monochrom was my first. I’ve since graduated to the M10 Monochrom as well as the M10R. (Interview: Danilo Rößger)

Introduction text and all images on this page: © Byron Merritt
Equipment: Leica M10 Monochrom and Leica M10 R with Summilux-M 35/1.4 Asph and Noctilux-M 50/0.95 Asph
© Byron Merritt

Byron Merritt

Byron Merritt is a lifelong photography enthusiast, educated as an architect and designer. Professionally speaking, he has had a career in consumer experience, design and marketing: fourteen years as an executive at Nike in Portland, Oregon, and currently as an executive for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, Georgia. He splits time in both cities currently, but has lived all over the United States as well as in Braunschweig, Germany, where he first stepped into the world of photography.

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